Craig Simpson scored in each of the first two periods Saturday night at Edmonton as the Oilers routed the road-weary New York Islanders, 5-1. The victory extended the Stanley Cup champions' unbeaten streak to four games (2-0-2).
What is unusual about this feat is that it has been accomplished without the greatest player in the game, injured Wayne Gretzky.
Gretzky suffered a severely strained knee Dec. 30 in a superlative performance in a convincing win over Philadelphia.
When he missed the next game, it was just the 10th game in nine seasons that the durable center had missed. And the Oilers lost to Washington, 2-0, to make their record without Gretzky 1-7-2.
So, the current unbeaten streak is surprising under the circumstances. It was expected the Oilers would fall far behind Calgary, the leader of the Smythe Division, but it hasn't happened. They are only a point out of first.
Not much has been said about it, but when the Oilers traded their unhappy All-Star defenseman, Paul Coffey, to Pittsburgh, they received some talent from the Penguins in the deal.
Simpson, a 20-year-old center, is one of them. In his 22 games with the Oilers, he has scored 16 goals.
Another former Penguin playing well is Dave Hannan. Hannan, a 26-year-old forward, scored a goal in the closing minutes Friday night at Winnipeg to give the Oilers a tie.
He assisted on Mike Krushelinski's goal early in this game to get the Oilers out in front. Simpson scored the next two goals to give the Oilers a commanding lead.
Another reason the Oilers are doing well without Gretzky is goalie Grant Fuhr. In another sharp performance, Fuhr had a shutout until Brad Lauer scored early in the final period. The Islanders fired 18 shots at Fuhr in the last 20 minutes.
The Islanders, who have spent three days battling the elements in Western Canada, were trounced by the Flames Friday night at Calgary.
Philadelphia 3, Montreal 3--With a chance to build a big lead in the Adams Division, the Canadiens have failed miserably.
When Ilkka Sinisalo scored with 7:43 left in regulation at Montreal to earn a tie for the Flyers, it extended the Canadiens' winless streak to four games. They have won only 4 of their last 11 games.
The Canadiens were without two defensemen. Veteran Larry Robinson has a wrist injury, and Craig Ludwig has the flu.
Boston 2, St. Louis 1--With less than a minute remaining in overtime at St. Louis, Cam Neely put the Bruins into first place in the Adams Division when he backhanded a shot past goaltender Rick Wamsley.
Geoff Courtnall passed out from behind the net to Neely, who scored his 21st goal.
The Bruins dominated the game, getting 49 shots to 17 for the Blues.
Hartford 5, Pittsburgh 4--After building a 3-0 lead in the first period at Hartford, the Whalers had to go overtime to get the victory.
Kevin Dineen took a pass from Joel Quinneville and fired a 10-footer past Gilles Meloche to get the win just 55 seconds into the extra period.
Mario Lemieux's league-leading 36th goal, with 21 seconds remaining in regulation, got the Penguins, who had removed Meloche for an extra attacker, into the overtime.
New Jersey 4, Minnesota 3--All a team having trouble winning on the road has to do is get to Bloomington, Minn. The North Stars are the most generous host in the league.
Kirk Muller scored twice, and goaltender Bob Sauve stopped 37 shots as the Devils won only their sixth game of 21 on the road. The North Stars have lost 14 of 21 home games.
Vancouver 3, Quebec 2--Every time the Nordiques seem ready to make a move in the Adams Division, they lose a home game they figured to win.
The lowly Canucks rode two goals by veteran Steve Tambellini and sterling net work by Richard Brodeur to gain the victory.
In their previous game, the Nordiques walloped Chicago, 6-1.